Thanks to ethics waiver, Congress golfs for free at prestigious clubs' fundraisers
To allow members of Congress and Hill aides to attend their annual fundraising golf tournaments free of charge, Washington’s premier partisan clubs get ethics waivers from the House Ethics Committee, according to the clubs' managers.
A ticket to the Capitol Hill Club's “Annual Republican Leadership Tournament,” held today at the Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria costs $3,000 for a foursome. On July 19, it’s the NDC's turn to take the greens at Trump National Club, where a ticket costs twice as much for members and $8,000 for a team of non-members.
At the Capitol Hill Club, members and staffers are allowed to attend as guests, said Stan Lawson, general manager at the club.
Such a gift -- golf and free meals -- would not seem to be allowed, according to the 2008 House Ethics Manual. Members can accept meals and play in golf tournaments at charity fundraisers, a category which does not include social and recreational clubs.
Calls to the Ethics Committee to ask about the waiver were not returned as of Friday.
National Democratic Club operations manager Dana Ehlman declined to say how many members would play in the 32nd Annual Tip O’Neill Golf Tournament at in Potomac Falls, Va.
“Two or three” members and the same number of staffers are expected to attend the Capitol Hill Club outing in Alexandria, fewer than usual, because of the event’s timing, right after the Independence Day recess, according to Lawson.
As non-profit, private clubs, the managers said the fundraisers are necessary to maintain their operations.
All year, members pay the clubs to host fundraisers for their campaigns and leadership PACs. This year there are over 500 invitations to Capitol Hill Club fundraisers and over 70 to the NDC and its next door townhouse in Party Time’s database of invitations.
The NDC has members, staffers, and lobbyists on its board of directors, according to its website. As of its 2008 tax return, the same was true for the Capitol Hill Club.
The exemption letter for the NDC is written specifically for the golf tournament, which is the only fundraiser by the club all year, Ehlman said. The Capitol Hill Club puts on three to six fundraisers per year and its exemption allows all of these events, Lawson said.
According to its website, the House Ethics Committee generally does not issue approvals for events but rather leaves the decision to attend to the member. The website says:
At times the Committee receives requests from outside organizations or individuals to 'approve' a particular event to which House Members or staff will be invited, or a particular gift. However, in general, the Committee does not grant such approval.
About 150 golfers are expected to compete in the Republican event while 250 are set to participate at Trump National, Lawson and Ehlman said. At Trump National, teams can also host the event for $20,000 or become a platinum or gold sponsor for $15,000 or $10,000.
The Capitol Hill Club, only one block from the Capitol, is referred to as the “nation’s premier political club” on its website. Its mission is to “advocate and maintain the principles of republicanism as enunciated by the Republican Party while promoting social interaction for its members” according to tax forms. It’s unclear if non-members could play in the tournament; invitations were sent out for the event.
The NDC website says the club welcomes “all Democrats for partisan fraternity.” The only requirement for membership to the NDC is being a Democrat, Ehlman said.
Annual membership to the National Democratic Club costs $1,200, according to its website. Government and national Democratic Party committees employees are asked to pay $540 in annual dues.
The NDC board includes Reps. Mike Capuano, D-Mass., Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., Linda Sanchez, D-Cali, and William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.
As of 2008, Capitol Hill Club's board included Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Cali., Tom Latham, R-Iowa, Jerry Lewis, R-Cali., Richard Burr, R-N.C., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Jim Saxton, R-N.J., along with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. and former Reps. Raymond McGrath and Robert Michel.
The Party Time database is made up of invitations received from anonymous lobbyist sources, and does not represent all fundraisers held. Party Time posts invitations as received, but does not double check to see if every event takes place as advertised. If we receive information that an event is canceled or postponed, we amend the database accordingly.